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The truth about women on corporate boards

#GenderAnd Business: Gender diversity in companies; a  complete analysis of compliance, wages, participation

Updated: December 28, 2017 9:49:35 am

India is one of the first developing countries to have enforced a legal framework to push for greater presence of women in company board rooms. The 2013 Companies Act (Section 149) and SEBI regulations make it mandatory for listed companies as well as companies with a paid-up share capital of at least Rs 100 crore or turnover of at least Rs 300 crore to appoint at least one woman director.

More than four years since the legal requirement was enacted, have company boards complied in both letter and spirit? Are managements more mindful and convinced of the need for women directors? And what about the popular notion that women directors from promoter families are the only ones getting appointed, to comply with the regulations. has explored and analysed data collected and maintained by Prime Database for the boards of the top 500 companies listed on the National Stock Exchange (NIFTY 500). Over the next few weeks, a four-part series of how companies have embraced diversity? Do men and women directors have parity of earnings? Are there lessons from the public sector that the private sector can imbibe? Does having one woman director fully realise the potential for gender diversity as an actual driver of change?

In the first of our four-part series, a snapshot of our big findings:

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NSE 500: 14 per cent FEMALE DIRECTORS

These 500 companies had a total of 4,750 members on their boards as on November 20, 2017. As many as 4,100 of these were male. Thus, for the entire cohort, women made up around 14 per cent of all members of boards of these companies.

In March, 2012 before the legal enactment, female representation on boards of  NIFTY 500 was 5 per cent. The amendment does seem to have triggered off the right trend. However, at 14 per cent  the NIFTY 500 is still behind countries like Norway (39 per cent), Sweden (35per cent), France (34per cent), Finland (32per cent), Belgium (27per cent) that are leading the global trends on ensuring greater presence of women in company board rooms.

HIGH COMPLIANCE FOR “AT LEAST ONE WOMAN DIRECTOR” RULEThere is high compliance for the requirement of “at least one woman director” under the Companies Act. Seventy one per cent of the 500 companies, had one woman on their board – the minimal requirement under law. While 26 per cent of the companies went beyond the minimal limit, there were 98 companies with two women on their boards and 31 with three or more women.

In absolute numbers, the companies with maximum number of female board members were Ultratech Cement Ltd, Cipla Ltd, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise Ltd, and Godrej Consumer Products Ltd. with four females on their boards each. However, 14 companies did not have a single woman on their boards as of November 20, 2017. Eight of the 14 in this list of misses were PSUs.


When the law made it mandatory for “at least one woman director”, there were concerns that this may result in companies placing someone from the promoter-director families, or from within on the board to comply. In an encouraging trend, only 16 per cent of all women were also promoter directors (just a degree more than the 15 per cent of all men).

Data for the NIFTY 500 shows 60 per cent of all females on all boards were independent. This was a greater proportion than for males, 49 per cent of whom were listed as independent. Independent directors may be broadly understood as non-executive members who do not have any kind of financial relationship with the company or the promoter-directors, and as such are expected to be independent in their judgment.

In our analysis, we found 83 women who were members of boards of more than one company, with three women present on as many as six boards. Multiple board membership isn’t unique to women, several male members also occupied positions on multiple boards, with one being present on nine of the 500 NSE companies.

Another positive trend–women were not just listed as members on the board, but were actively attending meetings. For 1,296 board members where all relevant data was available, male and female members faired nearly the same on attendance with both having had attended 89 and 88 per cent of board meetings during their tenure in 2016-17.

If companies are to take gender diversity and women empowerment beyond just buzz words, they need to go beyond just ensuring female presence. To assess of how companies were faring when it came to the nuts and bolts, we studied two additional metrics – earnings and membership of committees. The disparities begin to appear here. Look out for the second part of our series, The truth about women on corporate boards.

(#GenderAnd is dedicated to the coverage of Gender across intersections. You can read our reports here.)

Research and data analysis by ICFJ Associate Akshi Chawla. Cyril Sam and Sana Amir contributed to this project. Inputs from Furquan Ameen & Kunal Ranjan

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